Full list: Agriculture in the News

Burlington Free Press: Patients, growers consider VT hemp oil law

By Haley Dover
Full Article

Shelly Waterman was looking for a miracle that could cure her daughter’s seizures.

Her daughter Hannah, 13, has neurological disorders. She has experienced seizures multiple times each day for most of her life. Two years ago, doctors diagnosed her with a rare and severe type of epilepsy that causes various types of seizures.

“We’ve been on five or six, maybe seven different pharmaceuticals, all in combination,” Waterman said. “None of which are able to say you are going to be seizure free.”

Hannah had gone three days without a single seizure, her mother said one afternoon in early September. Waterman of Burlington attributes this improvement to the combination of pharmaceutical drugs and a type of hemp oil from Colorado.

The oil product, Charlotte’s Web, is made from cannabis which is high in cannabidiol, or CBD, but low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Waterman said.

THC is a chemical compound found in marijuana products, which produces a feeling of euphoria in users.

Because of the oil’s low THC levels, the product can be shipped from Colorado.

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell wrote in an April memo that residents should not fear prosecution for possessing hemp oil products. The oil can provide some therapeutic benefit in treating seizure disorders, he noted.

New regulations regarding medical marijuana could provide the option for dispensaries in Vermont to cultivate hemp for symptom relief.

The Legislative Committee on Administrative Roles met for a second time Thursday to discuss the proposed regulations. The committee has postponed any decision on the rules until an Oct. 12 meeting to allow the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Marijuana Registry, to make grammatical changes and clarify definitions.

New this year is the option for dispensaries to grow cannabis plants with a THC level of 0.3 percent or less. Strains of cannabis with low THC levels qualify as hemp under Vermont law, and can be commercially traded in the state.

This law could allow for Vermont medical marijuana dispensaries to enter the therapeutic hemp oil market, and offer Vermonters the choice of purchasing a local product, said Lindsey Wells, program administrator for the state’s Marijuana Registry.

“We’re not trying to limit their options for hemp oil,” Wells said, referring to all Vermonters. “We want it to be available here.”

The cultivation of hemp is currently overseen by the Agency of Agriculture, Wells said. The new regulations will apply only to the four marijuana dispensaries in the state. Farmers who grow hemp for agricultural purposes would remain under the jurisdiction of the agriculture agency.

Dispensary managers interested in growing hemp would be required to submit a proposal to the Department of Public Safety, according to a draft copy of the rules. Managers would be required to list the proposed hemp strands that would be dispensed, updated plans for record keeping, inventory and quality control and the type of barrier that would be used to prevent unauthorized access or visibility to the product.

Homegrown hemp?

Shayne Lynn, executive director of Champlain Valley Dispensary and Southern Vermont Wellness, said he doesn’t grow any plants with less than 0.3 percent THC.

“I just don’t have the time,” he said.

Since he opened his first medical marijuana dispensary in June 2013, demand for products has eclipsed Lynn’s five-year business plan.

Vermont patients have sought medical marijuana treatment at a higher rate than the projections of lawmakers who crafted the original medical marijuana legislation.

Lynn’s dispensaries, located in Burlington and Brattleboro, offer products with various levels of THC and CBD, but none are low enough to be given to children, he said. The lowest THC levels found in the dispensaries are 1 or 2 percent.

He said staff at his facilities are on the hunt for strains of cannabis plants that are similar to the plants used to create the hemp oil that Waterman orders from Colorado.

That involves donated seeds that Lynn germinates, grows and tests to find the correct ratio of THC and CBD.

But even if he found the correct strain, it takes a whole lot of hemp to create any oil, Lynn said.

Andrea Stander, executive director of the advocacy association, Rural Vermont, echoed Lynn’s thoughts.

“No one is producing CBD oil yet because the infrastructure doesn’t exist,” she said.

The Agency of Agriculture allowed farmers and dispensary managers to begin growing hemp in 2014. So far, 20 people are registered to grow hemp in Vermont, including Netaka White, co-founder of Full Sun, a Middlebury-based company that makes craft sunflower and canola oils.

White said he has about a quarter acre of hemp this year. By 2017, he hopes to plant over 100 acres and begin producing Vermont-grown hemp oil.

He believes in the nutritional value of hemp oil and has purchased and ingested it for years. His current plan is to produce nontherapuetic hemp oil, but White said if he saw a need in the market to grow hemp for a medicinal purpose, he might consider the option.

Still, he has reservations.

“I wouldn’t want to jump through the hoops that a dispensary has to,” he said. “The Department of Liquor Control doesn’t monitor a corn farmer because his corn might be turned into whiskey.”

Hemp and the medicinal benefit

Waterman said that her daughter has been on a “pharmaceutical merry-go-round.”

Hannah was diagnosed Rett Syndrome at age 2. The genetic neurological disorder is found almost exclusively in girls and can affect their ability to speak, walk, eat and breathe, according to rettsyndrome.org. When she was 11, Hannah was given a second diagnosis of Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, a rare and severe type of epilepsy.

One of Waterman’s friends and former co-workers, Annie Galloway, told Waterman about a mother in Colorado that was using cannabis oil to treat her daughter’s seizures.

Waterman thought getting her hands on the medicine seemed like an unobtainable goal, she said.

“I knew nothing about this, absolutely nothing,” she said. “I was thinking ‘oh my god are we going to have to set up a hookah room?'”

There had to be a catch, Waterman remembered thinking. She went to Colorado herself to see what the fuss was about.

“My husband and I needed to know — if this is something that can really help her, I need to see it,” she said.

Galloway, the family friend, was already living in Colorado and working with Realm of Caring, a nonprofit organization that provides support services and resources for people using cannabanoid products. She opened her home to Waterman and introduced her to families who could talk about their experiences using the hemp oils and extracts.

“There’s that perception that it’s a miracle drug, so people say they don’t believe in it,” Galloway said. “This plant is meant to be consumed by people and the best way to consume it is in it’s raw form.”

Creating oils is great for children, she said, adding that the oils are nonpsychoactive because of the low THC levels in the oils. Galloway said it’s critical that people understand the difference between the hemp oils and traditional marijuana.

“I think the perception in a lot of the public is that you smoke this and it’s high in THC and we shouldn’t give that to kids because that’s bad,” she said. “I think we need to legalize it so we can study it, and people can have safe access to it.”

To Waterman, supplementing Hannah’s medication with the hemp oil is no different than combining three or four medications together. While Hannah’s day-to-day wellness can be bumpy, Waterman said she has been taken off of one pharmaceutical completely since starting to use the oil.

Waterman said the decision to start Hannah on the oil was well thought out and included many of her physicians.

“Even though this path is unconventional, our physicians were supportive and active in our efforts to gather info,” Waterman said. “All are cautious and would prefer more research be done in this area but have supported us all the way and are learning along side of us.”

She advocates for Vermont to take the next step to approve the cultivation of hemp for oils at the state’s dispensaries.

The Atlantic: Farmland without Farmers

As industrial agriculture replaces men with machines, the American landscape loses its stewards, and the culture they built.
By Wendell Berry
March 19, 2015
Full Article

The landscapes of our country are now virtually deserted. In the vast, relatively flat acreage of the Midwest now given over exclusively to the production of corn and soybeans, the number of farmers is lower than it has ever been. I don’t know what the average number of acres per farmer now is, but I do know that you often can drive for hours through those corn-and-bean deserts without seeing a human being beyond the road ditches, or any green plant other than corn and soybeans. Any people you may see at work, if you see any at work anywhere, almost certainly will be inside the temperature-controlled cabs of large tractors, the connection between the human organism and the soil organism perfectly interrupted by the machine. Thus we have transposed our culture, our cultural goal, of sedentary, indoor work to the fields. Some of the “field work,” unsurprisingly, is now done by airplanes.

This contact, such as it is, between land and people is now brief and infrequent, occurring mainly at the times of planting and harvest. The speed and scale of this work have increased until it is impossible to give close attention to anything beyond the performance of the equipment. The condition of the crop of course is of concern and is observed, but not the condition of the land. And so the technological focus of industrial agriculture by which species diversity has been reduced to one or two crops is reducing human participation ever nearer to zero. Under the preponderant rule of “labor-saving,” the worker’s attention to the work place has been effectively nullified even when the worker is present. The “farming” of corn-and-bean farmers—and of others as fully industrialized—has been brought down from the complex arts of tending or husbanding the land to the application of purchased inputs according to the instructions conveyed by labels and operators’ manuals.

To make as much sense as I can of our predicament, I turn to Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute, in Salina, Kansas, and his perception that for any parcel of land in human use there is an “eyes-to-acres ratio” that is right and is necessary to save it from destruction. By “eyes” Wes means a competent watchfulness, aware of the nature and the history of the place, constantly present, always alert for signs of harm and signs of health. The necessary ratio of eyes to acres is not constant from one place to another, nor is it scientifically predictable or computable for any place, because from place to place there are too many natural and human variables. The need for the right eyes-to-acres ratio appears nonetheless to have the force of law.
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The 50-Year Farm Bill

We can suppose that the eyes-to-acres ratio is approximately correct when a place is thriving in human use and care. The sign of its thriving would be the evident good health and diversity, not just of its crops and livestock but also of its population of native and noncommercial creatures, including the community of creatures living in the soil. Equally indicative and necessary would be the signs of a thriving local and locally adapted human economy.

The great and characteristic problem of industrial agriculture is that it does not distinguish one place from another. In effect, it blinds its practitioners to where they are. It cannot, by definition, be adapted to local ecosystems, topographies, soils, economies, problems, and needs.

The sightlessness and thoughtlessness of the imposition of the corn-and-bean industry upon the sloping or rolling countryside hereabouts is made vividly objectionable to me by my memory of the remarkably careful farming that was commonly practiced in these central Kentucky counties in the 1940s and 50s—though, even then, amid much regardlessness and damage. The best farming here was highly diversified in both plants and animals. Its basis was understood to be grass and grazing animals; cattle, sheep, hogs, and, during the 40s, the workstock, all were pastured. Grain crops typically were raised to be fed; the farmers would say, “The grain raised here must walk off.” And so in any year only a small fraction of the land would be plowed. The commercial economy of the farms was augmented and supported by the elaborate subsistence economies of the households. “I may be sold out or run out,” the farmers would say, “but I’ll not be starved out.”

My brother recently reminded me how carefully our father thought about the nature of our home countryside. He had witnessed the ultimate futility—the high costs to both farmer and farm—of raising corn for cash during the hard times of the 1920s and 30s. He concluded, rightly, that the crop that could be raised most profitably in the long run was grass. That was because we did not have large acreages that could safely be used for growing grain, but our land was aboundingly productive of grass, which moreover it produced more cheaply than any other crop. And the grass sod, which was perennial, covered and preserved the soil the year round.

A further indication of the quality of the farming here in the 40s and 50s is that the Soil Conservation Service was more successful during those years than it would or could be again in the promotion of plowing and terracing on the contour to control soil erosion. Those measures at that time were permitted by the right scale of the farming and of the equipment then in use. Anybody familiar with topographic maps will know that contour lines remain strictly horizontal over the irregularities of the land’s surfaces; crop rows cannot be regularly spaced. This variability presents no significant problem to a farmer using one- or two-row equipment in relatively small lands or fields. And so for a while contour farming became an established practice on many farms, and to good effect. It was defeated primarily by the enlargement of fields and the introduction of larger equipment. Eventually, many farmers simply ignored their terraces, plowing over them, the planted rows sometimes running straight downhill. Earlier, a good many farmers had taken readily to the idea of soil conservation. A farmer in a neighboring county said, “I want the water to walk off my land, not run.” But beyond a certain scale, the farming begins to conform to the demands of the machines, not to the nature of the land.
The great and characteristic problem of industrial agriculture is that it does not distinguish one place from another.

Within three paragraphs I have twice quoted farmers who used “walk” as an approving figure of speech: Grain leaving a farm hereabouts should walk off; and the rainwater fallen upon a farm should walk, not run. This is not merely a coincidence. The gait most congenial to agrarian thought and sensibility is walking. It is the gait best suited to paying attention, most conservative of land and equipment, and most permissive of stopping to look or think. Machines, companies, and politicians “run.” Farmers studying their fields travel at a walk.

Farms that are highly diversified and rightly scaled tend, by their character and structure, toward conservation of the land, the human community, and the local economy. Such farms are both work places and homes to the families who inhabit them and who are intimately involved in the daily life of land and household. Without such involvement, farmers cease to be country people and become in effect city people, industrial workers and consumers, living in the country.

* * *

I have spoken so far of the decline of country work, but the decline of country pleasures is at least equally significant. If the people who live and work in the country don’t also enjoy the country, a valuable and necessary part of life is missing. And for families on farms of a size permitting them to be intimately lived on and from, the economic life of the place is itself the primary country pleasure. As one would expect, not every day or every job can be a pleasure, but for farmers who love their livestock there is pleasure in watching the animals graze and in winter feeding. There is pleasure in the work of maintenance, the redemption of things worn or broken, that must go on almost continuously. There is pleasure in the growing, preserving, cooking, and eating of the good food that the family’s own land provides. But around this core of the life and work of the farm are clustered other pleasures, in their way also life-sustaining, and most of which are cheap or free.
I live in a country blessed by a shortage of picturesque scenery and mineable minerals.

I live in a country that would be accurately described as small-featured. There are no monumental land forms, no peaks or cliffs or high waterfalls, no wide or distant vistas. Though it is by nature a land of considerable beauty, there is little here that would attract vacationing wilderness lovers. It is blessed by a shortage of picturesque scenery and mineable minerals. The topography, except in the valley bottoms, is rolling or sloping. Along the sides of the valleys, the slopes are steep. It is divided by many hollows and streams, and it has always been at least partially wooded.

Because of the brokenness and diversity of the landscape, there was never until lately a clean separation here between the pursuits of farming and those of hunting and gathering. On many farms the agricultural income, including the homegrown and homemade subsistence of the households, would be supplemented by hunting or fishing or trapping or gathering provender from the woods and berry patches—perhaps by all of these. And beyond their economic contribution, these activities were forms of pleasure. Many farmers kept hounds or bird dogs. The gear and skills of hunting and fishing belonged to ordinary daily and seasonal life. More ordinary was the walking (or riding or driving) and looking that kept people aware of the condition of the ground, the crops, the pastures, and the livestock, of the state of things in the house yard and the garden, in the woods, and along the sides of the streams.

My own community, centered upon the small village of Port Royal, is along the Kentucky River and in the watersheds of local tributaries. Its old life, before the industrialization of much of the farmland and the urbanization of the people, was under the influence of the river, as other country communities of that time were under the influence of the railroads. In the neighborhood of Port Royal practically every man and boy, some girls and women too, fished from time to time in the Kentucky River. Some of the men fished “all the time” or “way too much.” Until about a generation ago, there was some commercial fishing. And I can remember when hardly a summer day would pass when from the house where eventually I would live you could not hear the shouts of boys swimming in the river, often flying out into the water from the end of a swinging rope. I remember when I was one of them. My mother, whose native place this was, loved her girlhood memories of swimming parties and picnics at the river. In hot weather she and her friends would walk the mile from Port Royal down to the river for a cooling swim, and then would make the hot walk back up the hill to town.

Now the last of the habituated fishermen of the local waters are now dead. They have been replaced by fishermen using expensive “bassboats,” almost as fast as automobiles, whose sport is less describable as fishing than as using equipment. In the last year only one man, comparatively a newcomer, has come to the old landing where I live to fish with trotlines—and, because of the lack of competition, he has caught several outsize catfish. Some local people, and a good many outsiders, hunt turkeys and deer. There is still a fair amount of squirrel hunting. The bobwhite, the legendary gamebird of this region, is almost extinct here, and the bird hunters with them. A rare few still hunt with hounds.

Most remarkable is the disappearance of nearly all children and teenagers, from the countryside, and in general from the out-of-doors. The technologies of large-scale industrial agriculture are too complicated and too dangerous to allow the participation of children. For most families around here, the time is long gone when children learned to do farmwork by playing at it, and then taking part in it, in the company of their parents. It seems that most children now don’t play much in their house yards, let alone in the woods and along the creeks. Many now descend from their school buses at the ends of lanes and driveways to be carried the rest of the way to their houses in parental automobiles. Most teenagers apparently divide their out-of-school time between indoor entertainment and travel in motor vehicles.

Local people who regularly hunted or fished or foraged or walked or played in the local countryside served the local economy and stewardship as inspectors, rememberers, and storytellers. They gave their own kind of service to the eyes-to-acres ratio. Now most of those people are gone or absent, along with most of the farming people who used to be at work here.

With them have gone the local stories and songs. When people begin to replace stories from local memory with stories from television screens, another vital part of life is lost. I have my own memories of the survival in a small rural community of its own stories. By telling and retelling those stories, people told themselves who they were, where they were, and what they had done. They thus maintained in ordinary conversation their own living history. And I have from my neighbor, John Harrod, a thorough student of Kentucky’s traditional fiddle music, his testimony that every rural community once heard, sang, and danced to at least a few tunes that were uniquely its own. What is the economic value of stories and songs? What is the economic value of the lived and living life of a community? My argument here is directed by my belief that the art and the life of settled rural communities are critical to our life-supporting economy. But their value is incalculable. It can only be acknowledged and respected, and our present economy is incapable, and cannot on its own terms be made capable, of such acknowledgement and respect.

Meanwhile, the farmlands and woodlands of this neighborhood are being hurt worse and faster by bad farming and bad logging than at any other time in my memory. The signs of this abuse are often visible even from the roads, but nobody is looking. Or to people who are looking, but seeing from no perspective of memory or knowledge, the country simply looks “normal.” Outsiders who come visiting almost always speak of it as “beautiful.” But along this river, the Kentucky, which I have known all my life, and have lived beside for half a century, there is a large and regrettable recent change, clearly apparent to me, and to me indicative of changes in water quality, but perfectly invisible to nearly everybody else.

* * *

I don’t remember what year it was when I first noticed the disappearance of the native black willows from the low-water line of this river. Their absence was sufficiently noticeable, for the willows were both visually prominent and vital to the good health of the river. Wherever the banks were broken by “slips” or the uprooting of large trees, and so exposed to sunlight, the willows would come in quickly to stabilize the banks. Their bushy growth and pretty foliage gave the shores of the river a distinctive grace, now gone and much missed by the few who remember. Like most people, I don’t welcome bad news, and so I said to myself that perhaps the willows were absent only from the stretch of the river that I see from my house and work places. But in 2002 for the first time in many years I had the use of a motor boat, and I examined carefully the shores of the twenty-seven-mile pool between locks one and two. I saw a few old willows at the tops of the high banks, but none at or near the low-water line, and no young ones anywhere.

The willows still live as usual along other streams in the area, and they thrive along the shore of the Ohio River just above the mouth of the Kentucky at Carrollton. The necessary conclusion is that their absence from the Kentucky River must be attributable to something seriously wrong with the water. And so, since 2002, I have asked everybody I met who might be supposed to know: “Why have the black willows disappeared from the Kentucky River?” I have put this question to conservationists, to conservation organizations specifically concerned with the Kentucky River, to water-quality officials and to university biologists. And I have found nobody who could tell me why. Except for a few old fishermen, I have found nobody who knew they were gone.

This may seem astonishing. At least, for a while, it astonished me. I thought that in a state in which water pollution is a permanent issue, people interested in water quality surely would be alert to the disappearance of a prominent member of the riparian community of a major river. But finally I saw that such ignorance is more understandable than I had thought. A generation or so ago, when fishing and the condition of the river were primary topics of conversation in Port Royal, the disappearance of the willows certainly would have been noticed. Fishermen used to tie their trotlines to the willows.

That time is past, and I was seeking local knowledge from conservationists and experts and expert conservationists. But most conservationists, like most people now, are city people. They “escape” their urban circumstances and preoccupations by going on vacations. They thus go into the countryside only occasionally, and their vacations are unlikely to take them into the economic landscapes. They want to go to parks, wilderness areas, or other famous “destinations.” Government and university scientists often have economic concerns or responsibilities, and some of them do venture into farmland or working forests or onto streams and rivers that are not “wild.” But it seems they are not likely to have a particular or personal or long-term interest in such places, or to go back to them repeatedly and often over a long time, or to maintain an economic or recreational connection to them. Such scientists affect the eyes-to-acres ratio probably less than the industrial farmers.

Among the many conservationists I have encountered in my home state, the most competent witness by far is Barth Johnson, a retired game warden who is a dedicated trapper, hunter, and fisherman, as he has been all his life. Barth has devoted much of his life to conservation. Like most conservationists, he is informed about issues and problems. Unlike most, he is exceptionally alert to what is happening in the actual countryside that needs to be conserved. This is because he is connected to the fields and woods and waters he knows by bonds of economy and pleasure, both at once. Moreover, he has lived for thirty years in the same place at the lower end of the Licking River. This greatly increases the value of his knowledge, for he can speak of changes over time. People who stay put and remain attentive know that the countryside changes, as it must, and for better or worse.

He tells a story about Harris Creek, a small stream along which he had trapped for many years. It was richly productive, and Barth was careful never to ask too much of it. But in 2007, confident that it would be as it always had been, he went there with his traps and discovered that the stream was dead. He could not find a live minnow or crawfish. There were no animal tracks. So far as he could tell, there could be only one reason for this: In the spring of that year, the bottomland along the creek had been herbicided to kill the grass in preparation for a seeding of alfalfa. In 2008, the stream was still dead. In 2009, there was “a little coon activity.” Finally, in 2013, the stream was “close to normal.”

I have also learned from Barth that upstream as far as he has looked, to a point two and a half miles above the small town of Boston, the black willows are gone from the Licking River. And in October 2013, he wrote me that the river had turned a brownish “brine” color that he had never seen before.

What happened to the willows? Two young biologists at Northern Kentucky University are now at work on the question, and perhaps they will find the answer. But other scientists have led me to consider the possibility that such questions will not be answered. It may be extremely difficult or impossible to attach a specific effect to a specific cause in a large volume of flowing water.

What killed Harris Creek? Barth’s evidence is “anecdotal,” without scientifically respectable proof. I have read scientific papers establishing that the herbicide glyphosate and its “degradation products” are present in high concentrations in some Mississippi River tributaries, but the papers say nothing about the effects. I have called up scientists working on water quality, including one of the authors of one of the papers on glyphosate. What about the effects? Good question. Nobody knows the answer. It seems that the research projects and the researchers are widely scattered, making such work somewhat incoherent. And besides, there is always the difficulty of pinning a specific cause to a specific effect. To two of these completely friendly and obliging people I told Barth’s story of Harris Creek: Does that surprise you? One said it did not surprise him. The other said it was possible but unlikely that the stream was killed by an herbicide. Was an insecticide also involved?

What caused the strange discoloration of the Licking River? Since the discoloration was visible until obscured by mud in the water when the river rose, I suppose that, if it happens again, the odd color could be traced upstream to a source. Will somebody do that? I don’t know. Is any scientist from any official body monitoring the chemical runoff from croplands and other likely sources? I have been asking that question too, and so far I have asked nobody who could answer.
In my search for answers, it may be that I have been making a characteristic modern mistake of relying on experts.

In my search for answers, it may be that I have been making a characteristic modern mistake of relying on experts, which has revealed a characteristic modern failure: Experts often don’t know and sometimes can never know. Beneficiaries of higher education, of whom I am one, often give too much credit to credentials.

Confronting industrial agriculture, we are requiring ourselves to substitute science for citizenship, community membership, and land stewardship. But science fails at all of these. Science as it now predominantly is, by definition and on its own terms, does not make itself accountable for unintended effects. The intended effect of chemical nitrogen fertilizer, for example, is to grow corn, whereas its known effect on the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico is a catastrophic accident. Moreover, science of this kind is invariably limited and controlled by the corporations that pay for it.

We have an ancient and long-enduring cultural imperative of neighborly love and work. This becomes ever more important as hardly imaginable suffering is imposed upon all creatures by industrial tools and industrial weapons. If we are to continue, in our only world, with any hope of thriving in it, we will have to expect neighborly behavior of sciences, of industries, and of governments, just as we expect it of our citizens in their neighborhoods.

VPR: Hemp Growers Concerned About New Hemp Rules For Dispensaries

By Steve Zind
Full Article & Audio

An effort to allow Vermont’s four marijuana dispensaries to grow hemp to produce a medicinal oil has raised concerns among Vermont hemp growers.

Claims of the therapeutic benefits of a hemp oil which contains an ingredient called cannabidiol, or CBD, have created a demand for the product, particularly among parents who feel it is effective in treating seizures and other medical conditions in children.

Lindsay Wells, the marijuana program administrator with the Department of Public Safety, says legislators are trying to respond to that demand by giving the state’s licensed medicinal marijuana dispensaries permission to grow hemp in addition to marijuana.

“The dispensaries didn’t have the product available and the legislature wanted to figure out a way,” Wells says.

Unlike marijuana, which is strictly controlled and legal only for medicinal purposes in Vermont, the hemp oil with CBD is legal and available to anyone who wants to order it from any of a number of sources. That’s because the oil, like the hemp it’s derived from, contains just a small percentage of  THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

If they were to grow hemp, the dispensaries would have to abide by the same restrictions that govern marijuana cultivation.

That raised concerns from Vermont hemp growers – and there are about two dozen of them – that they, too, would have to follow the restrictive rules.

So legislators are being asked to exempt them from the rules.

Joel Bedard, the founder of the Vermont Hemp Company, says he’s worried there still isn’t enough clarity to protect hemp growers.

Bedard also objects to the idea of the state controlling an aspect of agriculture that is otherwise freely practiced in Vermont.

“Currently in the state of Vermont, hemp is completely uncontrolled,” he says. “There is no aspect of industrial hemp that is considered a controlled substance. Why we’re taking the wording for marijuana, which is a completely controlled substance, and forcing it onto an uncontrolled substance is, I think unnecessary.”

The committee will continue deliberating the new rules for the state’s marijuana dispensaries next month.

VPR: Ag Agency To Impose Tighter Controls On Farms In Missisquoi Watershed

Sep 7, 2015
Full Article

The state Agency of Agriculture is moving to require more stringent controls to cut pollution from farms in the Missisquoi Basin of Lake Champlain.

The shallow bay in the northwest part of the lake is often choked with algae blooms in the summer. Those blooms are fueled in part by phosphorus run-off from farms.

Now the agency says it will hold a hearing in October on its plan to mandate what are called “best management practices” for farms in the Missisquoi Basin. These practices include buffers to prevent runoff from reaching streams, cover crops and fencing livestock out of waterways.

The proposal for best management practices is part of a potential settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Conservation law Foundation.

Chris Kilian, CLF’s Vermont director, says the settlement proposal outlines financial and technical assistance for farmers to comply with best management practices, or BMPs.

“This is a mandatory best practices program that has extensive flexibility and longer timeframes for implementation for farmers who follow through on their commitment to clean water,” he said.

Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross said in a statement that he looks forward to hearing input from farmers.

Ross said the best management practices and the potential settlement with CLF line up well with the goals of Act 64, the state’s new clean water act.

VT Digger: Eight states, environmental groups back Vermont in GMO labeling lawsuit

Erin Mansfield
Sep. 2 2015
Full Article

Eight states and several organizations have filed briefs in federal appeals court supporting Vermont’s food labeling law from 2014, joining the state in its battle against corporate interests.

Attorneys general in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire and Washington filed a friend-of-the-court brief this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City.

Four environmental groups — the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, or VPIRG, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, Cedar Circle Farm, and Rural Vermont — also filed a friend-of-the-court brief. Several doctors, scientists, and business groups also support Vermont.

Laura Murphy, associate director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, said in a statement that Vermont Law School was “honored” to file the brief on behalf of the four environmental groups that were “so instrumental in passing Act 120.”

“The legislative process for this law was very thorough and thoughtful, and there are many reasons why this law is different from Vermont’s rBST labeling law,” Murphy said. “We look forward to seeing this case through.”

The case is on track for the Second Circuit to hear oral arguments by this fall and make a decision by the end of 2015. Depending on what’s decided, that could push the case back down to U.S. District Court in Vermont for a trial, according to Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

“We’re pleased to have the help of businesses, of states, and the various other organizations favoring food safety and consumer rights,” Sorrell said. “Basically, it’s a First Amendment case, freedom of speech.”

The law would go into effect in on July 1, 2016 with two main parts: manufacturers would need to say there are genetically engineered products in their food, and they would not be allowed to call their products “natural” if the food contained genetically engineered materials.

Sorrell is comparing the case to an historic case that required meat packaging to show what country the meat came from. “It’s a straightforward, non-editorialized (labeling),” he said. “It’s not like tobacco products that say ‘hazardous to your health’ or whatever.”

The plaintiffs are four food manufacturers associations: the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association. The groups appealed a decision from U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss that upheld Vermont’s law.

Most recently, in June, the Grocery Manufacturers Association wrote to Gov. Peter Shumlin to say that its members could end up paying $10 million per day in fines. The group said that was too much money considering that Vermont is the second-smallest state in the country.

Shumlin issued a snarky response: “Here’s an idea for the industry: Just label your products. All of them, nationwide. Sixty-four countries already do it. I’m sure the food industry in America could summon the moral imagination to be the 65th.”

VT Digger: Vermont Groups Help Defend GE Food Labeling Law

Full Article

Maryellen Apelquist, Director of Communications, Vermont Law School
office: 802-831-1228, cell: 802-299-5593, mapelquist@vermontlaw.edu

Laura Murphy, ENRLC, 802-831-1123, lmurphy@vermontlaw.edu

Falko Schilling, VPIRG, 802-223-5221, ext. 26, falko@vpirg.org

Andrea Stander, Rural VT, 802-223-7222, andrea@ruralvermont.org

SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt., Sept. 2, 2015––Monday, Aug. 31, four Vermont groups filed an amicus curiae brief with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Vermont’s genetically engineered (GE) food labeling law. Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), Cedar Circle Farm, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) and Rural Vermont were instrumental in passing Act 120, Vermont’s labeling law, and are continuing to fight for it in court.

“The outpouring of support for the State of Vermont is compelling,” said Falko Schilling, consumer protection advocate for VPIRG. “In addition to our brief, national consumer, environmental and farming groups, other states, scientists, First Amendment specialists, and Vermont’s own Ben and Jerry’s and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility all came together to make a strong case for Vermont’s law.”

After Vermont’s GE labeling bill became law in May 2014, several industry associations sued the State of Vermont claiming the bill was unconstitutional. In April 2015, the United States District Court for the District of Vermont issued a ruling that was largely in favor of the state, and held that Vermont’s law was constitutional under the First Amendment. Industry appealed part of that ruling to the appellate court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, arguing that Vermont’s law violates the First Amendment.

The Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC) at Vermont Law School, which represents the Vermont groups, prepared and filed the brief. The clinic has represented VPIRG for the past several years on legal advocacy for the bill, and continues to represent VPIRG and the Center for Food Safety, along with co-counsel from the Center for Food Safety, as amici curiae in ongoing proceedings in District Court.

The brief filed Monday lays out the legislative process for Act 120, explaining why Vermont’s legislative decisions are reasonable and constitutional, and drawing upon the extensive legislative record in this case. The brief also explains in detail why a 1996 rBST decision—in which the court held that Vermont’s dairy labeling law violated the First Amendment—does not apply in this case. The brief can be found on the ENRLC website. The State of Vermont’s own brief, which was filed last week, is available here.

“We were honored to file this brief on behalf of the coalition of groups that was so instrumental in passing Act 120,” said Laura Murphy, associate director of the ENRLC. “The legislative process for this law was very thorough and thoughtful, and there are many reasons why this law is different from Vermont’s rBST labeling law. We look forward to seeing this case through.”

Many other organizations also filed briefs in support of the law. They are:

–          States of Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Washington (represented by attorneys general)

–          Consumers Union, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, and Ben & Jerry’s (represented by Earthjustice)

–          Dr. Ramon J. Seidler, Dr. Jack Heinemann, Dr. David Schubert, Dr. Allison K. Wilson, Dr. Jonathan Latham, National Family Farm Coalition, Our Family Farms Coalition, Sierra Club, and Center for Food Safety (represented by the Center for Food Safety)

–          Public Good Law Center, Free Speech for People, and Consumer Action (represented by Ronald A. Fein, Seth Mermin, and Tom Bennigson)

–          Public Citizen (represented by Julie A. Murray, Scott L. Nelson, and Allison M. Zieve)

The briefing at the Second Circuit will be complete in September, and oral argument likely will be scheduled for the fall. 

Journal of New England Medicine: GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health

Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., and Charles Benbrook, Ph.D.
August 20, 2015
Full Article

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not high on most physicians’ worry lists. If we think at all about biotechnology, most of us probably focus on direct threats to human health, such as prospects for converting pathogens to biologic weapons or the implications of new technologies for editing the human germline. But while those debates simmer, the application of biotechnology to agriculture has been rapid and aggressive. The vast majority of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are now genetically engineered. Foods produced from GM crops have become ubiquitous. And unlike regulatory bodies in 64 other countries, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require labeling of GM foods.

Two recent developments are dramatically changing the GMO landscape. First, there have been sharp increases in the amounts and numbers of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops, and still further increases — the largest in a generation — are scheduled to occur in the next few years. Second, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate, the herbicide most widely used on GM crops, as a “probable human carcinogen”1 and classified a second herbicide, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), as a “possible human carcinogen.”2

The application of genetic engineering to agriculture builds on the ancient practice of selective breeding. But unlike traditional selective breeding, genetic engineering vastly expands the range of traits that can be moved into plants and enables breeders to import DNA from virtually anywhere in the biosphere. Depending on the traits selected, genetically engineered crops can increase yields, thrive when irrigated with salty water, or produce fruits and vegetables resistant to mold and rot.

The National Academy of Sciences has twice reviewed the safety of GM crops — in 2000 and 2004.3 Those reviews, which focused almost entirely on the genetic aspects of biotechnology, concluded that GM crops pose no unique hazards to human health. They noted that genetic transformation has the potential to produce unanticipated allergens or toxins and might alter the nutritional quality of food. Both reports recommended development of new risk-assessment tools and postmarketing surveillance. Those recommendations have largely gone unheeded.

Herbicide resistance is the main characteristic that the biotechnology industry has chosen to introduce into plants. Corn and soybeans with genetically engineered tolerance to glyphosate (Roundup) were first introduced in the mid-1990s. These “Roundup-Ready” crops now account for more than 90% of the corn and soybeans planted in the United States.4 Their advantage, especially in the first years after introduction, is that they greatly simplify weed management. Farmers can spray herbicide both before and during the growing season, leaving their crops unharmed.

But widespread adoption of herbicide-resistant crops has led to overreliance on herbicides and, in particular, on glyphosate.5 In the United States, glyphosate use has increased by a factor of more than 250 — from 0.4 million kg in 1974 to 113 million kg in 2014. Global use has increased by a factor of more than 10. Not surprisingly, glyphosate-resistant weeds have emerged and are found today on nearly 100 million acres in 36 states. Fields must now be treated with multiple herbicides, including 2,4-D, a component of the Agent Orange defoliant used in the Vietnam War.

The first of the two developments that raise fresh concerns about the safety of GM crops is a 2014 decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve Enlist Duo, a new combination herbicide comprising glyphosate plus 2,4-D. Enlist Duo was formulated to combat herbicide resistance. It will be marketed in tandem with newly approved seeds genetically engineered to resist glyphosate, 2,4-D, and multiple other herbicides. The EPA anticipates that a 3-to-7-fold increase in 2,4-D use will result.

In our view, the science and the risk assessment supporting the Enlist Duo decision are flawed. The science consisted solely of toxicologic studies commissioned by the herbicide manufacturers in the 1980s and 1990s and never published, not an uncommon practice in U.S. pesticide regulation. These studies predated current knowledge of low-dose, endocrine-mediated, and epigenetic effects and were not designed to detect them. The risk assessment gave little consideration to potential health effects in infants and children, thus contravening federal pesticide law. It failed to consider ecologic impact, such as effects on the monarch butterfly and other pollinators. It considered only pure glyphosate, despite studies showing that formulated glyphosate that contains surfactants and adjuvants is more toxic than the pure compound.

The second new development is the determination by the IARC in 2015 that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen”1 and 2,4-D a “possible human carcinogen.”2 These classifications were based on comprehensive assessments of the toxicologic and epidemiologic literature that linked both herbicides to dose-related increases in malignant tumors at multiple anatomical sites in animals and linked glyphosate to an increased incidence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in humans.

These developments suggest that GM foods and the herbicides applied to them may pose hazards to human health that were not examined in previous assessments. We believe that the time has therefore come to thoroughly reconsider all aspects of the safety of plant biotechnology. The National Academy of Sciences has convened a new committee to reassess the social, economic, environmental, and human health effects of GM crops. This development is welcome, but the committee’s report is not expected until at least 2016.

In the meantime, we offer two recommendations. First, we believe the EPA should delay implementation of its decision to permit use of Enlist Duo. This decision was made in haste. It was based on poorly designed and outdated studies and on an incomplete assessment of human exposure and environmental effects. It would have benefited from deeper consideration of independently funded studies published in the peer-reviewed literature.  Second, the National Toxicology Program should urgently assess the toxicology of pure glyphosate, formulated glyphosate, and mixtures of glyphosate and other herbicides.

Finally, we believe the time has come to revisit the United States’ reluctance to label GM foods. Labeling will deliver multiple benefits. It is essential for tracking emergence of novel food allergies and assessing effects of chemical herbicides applied to GM crops. It would respect the wishes of a growing number of consumers who insist they have a right to know what foods they are buying and how they were produced. And the argument that there is nothing new about genetic rearrangement misses the point that GM crops are now the agricultural products most heavily treated with herbicides and that two of these herbicides may pose risks of cancer. We hope, in light of this new information, that the FDA will reconsider labeling of GM foods and couple it with adequately funded, long-term postmarketing surveillance.

VT Digger: Missisquoi Bay farmers hit hard by new EPA phosphorous limits

Mike Polhamus
Aug. 28 2015
Full Article

State and federal officials this week told farmers in Missisquoi Bay’s watershed that they’d be responsible for cutting their phosphorus effluence into Lake Champlain by more than 80 percent.

More than 100 people gathered Wednesday evening in the St. Albans Historical Society headquarters to hear officials detail new standards for phosphorous pollution and the state’s plan for implementing them.

Meeting these targets won’t be easy, even with monies newly made available through recent clean-water legislation, officials said.

Phosphorus is a nutrient found in agricultural runoff, and is a product of fertilizers such as manure. Other sources include dirt roads, waste water treatment plants, insufficiently treated stormwater, and even forested land.

Phosphorus introduced into Lake Champlain has resulted in toxic algae blooms, among other undesirable environmental effects. The blooms have led public health officials to close beaches and monitor drinking water contamination from algae toxins. Tourism in the Missisquoi Bay area has been negatively impacted and property tax values have dropped in the town of Georgia.

Chuck Ross, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, said Wednesday that no one group is responsible for the pollution.

“If you’re going to look simply to the state of Vermont, and our agencies that are in place, you’re not looking far enough, because this is a problem we’re all going to have to face,” Ross said.

But farmers in the Missisquoi Bay watershed will be hit especially hard by the new pollution limits. They’ll be expected to reduce their contribution to the lake’s phosphorus levels by 82.6 percent, according to figures from the EPA.

Of the 12 areas of the lake that have been impacted by the pollution, Missisquoi Bay must undergo the greatest rate of improvement. The bay is in the middle of the state’s largest and most prosperous conventional dairy farming community.

Stephen Perkins, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lake Champlain TMDL Project Manager, says the new standards establish a pollution limit, known as the total maximum daily load, for phosphorus laden runoff draining into Lake Champlain.

“No question, the biggest reduction has to happen in Missisquoi Bay,” Perkins said. “We recognize it’s a big ask here.”

Farmers who have already sought to implement water-quality measures may find that the new standards don’t impose much additional burden, Ross said.

But farmers who say they are complying with state requirements are frustrated by shifting goalposts.

“My concern is, they keep changing [standards] on us,” Dick Longway, owner of Longway Farms in Swanton, said. “They keep adding stuff to it, and it’s taking land out of production.”

Longway, whose farm in 2010 was recognized as the Vermont Dairy Farm of the Year, said he and many other farmers have been following water-quality best practices for years, and he’s frustrated that they don’t appear to have any effect.

“People are doing all this stuff, and they say it’s getting worse, or it’s not getting better,” Longway said. “And then you have the state coming in, and telling us, ‘you’re going to do this, this and this,’ you know … Once in a while, I’d like to have somebody say farmers are doing a good job.”

Bringing Lake Champlain into compliance with EPA water quality standards could take 20 years, Perkins said.

Meeting the new standards won’t be cheap, either, Deb Markowitz, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, told a crowd of about 100 gathered in Burlington Thursday morning for a meeting similar to that held in St. Albans the night before.

“For farmers, it’s going to cost you more in your operation to have the farm you want, and keep your water clean,” she said.

An unprecedented amount of money has been allocated for the effort ‑ $10 million has already been set aside from a real estate transfer tax into the state’s Clean Water Fund, and the federal government has awarded $60 million in grants for the same purpose to the department of Agriculture, Food and Markets, Markowitz said.

Alburgh farmer Darlene Reynolds said the additional costs associated with meeting the new standards will push some farmers out of business.

“I still have to cough up a considerable amount of money out of my pocket for water quality,” she said. “I think farmers are more and more coming to that realization. Depending on how hard the regulations hit them, it is going to drive some farmers out of business.”

Reynolds said many of the farmers in her part of the state have been adapting to shifting cultural expectations.

Some say, however, that Vermont has set expectations too high.

The pollution limits set by the EPA in Vermont’s TMDL program are “contrived to meet unrealistic goals,” Mark Winslow, staff scientist of the Lake Champlain Committee, said.

“In particular, look at the reductions from Missisquoi Bay,” he said. “That’s just unrealistic. Maybe if you eliminated 70 to 75 percent of the farms – maybe.”

Addison farmer Mark Boivin said these concerns should lead the state and the EPA to extend the comment period for the TMDL program from one month – of which 10 days have already elapsed – to six months.

“The state took several years with people working full-time, with paid staff, to come up with these regulations, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to give the public a longer period [than one month] to respond,” Boivin said.

Farmers want to practice methods that don’t harm waterbodies, Boivin said, but it’s important to balance water quality goals with what farmers are able to achieve.

“If they put a burden [that is] too great on farms, and they have to go out of business and sell to developers, I think that’s going to be a negative on the lake,” he said. “There needs to be a balance, and that’s why the key is to have more communication between regulators and the people being regulated.”

The 30-day comment period on Lake Champlain’s new phosphorus TMDLs began Aug. 14 and will continue until Sept. 15.

The TMDL outreach effort underway this week across Vermont included meetings in St. Albans, Burlington and Rutland. Several federal and state functionaries made themselves available at these events to answer questions posed by members of the audience.

Those officials included Perkins, Markowitz and Ross, along with Vermont Agency of Transportation Deputy Secretary Chris Cole, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alyssa Schuren and others.

The Environmental Protection Agency has required the state of Vermont to adopt limits on phosphorus pollution in order to bring Lake Champlain’s water quality into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.

The EPA is currently seeking public input on a range of proposed daily phosphorus limits to be placed on segments of Lake Champlain within the state of Vermont. The agency developed these TMDLs in conjunction with Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and the state’s Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, and released the pollution standards August 14 for public comment.
Members of the public have 30 days from that time to submit comments on the new TMDLs, and Perkins said those in writing should be submitted directly to him.

Perkins said the best way to send them is by email to his address at perkins.stephen@epa.gov.

“If you have comments, the best thing you can do is put it into writing and send them to me by September 15, said to those assembled Wednesday night in Saint Albans. “I can assure you that I will read every one of those comments, and take them under consideration.”

VT Digger: State looks to grow hemp at medical marijuana dispensaries

Sarah Olsen
Aug. 27 2015, 7:07 pm
Full Article

State officials are asking lawmakers to allow marijuana dispensaries to grow hemp plants and produce and sell therapeutic hemp oil.

The dispensaries want to sell the oil as a treatment for children who suffer from seizures and other neurological symptoms, according to Lindsay Wells, marijuana program administrator at the Department of Public Safety.

Wells and Jeffrey Wallin, director of the Vermont Crime Information Center, are asking lawmakers to change existing state statutes to allow dispensaries to grow hemp.

At a hearing Thursday, members of the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules learned the difference between hemp, marijuana and cannabis. Cannabis refers to the three different varieties of plants that produce marijuana and hemp. Hemp contains less than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol at dry weight, while marijuana has more than 0.3 percent THC, Wells said. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces its euphoric effect. Hemp contains more of the compound cannabidiol (CBD), which helps with certain medical treatments. Medical marijuana grown by the dispensaries to treat pain, nausea and other conditions contains a higher level of THC than hemp.

Hemp for this purpose must be grown outside, unlike medical marijuana, Wallin said, and farm production of the plant for hemp oil requires a lot of acreage, he said.

Despite the lower THC levels in hemp, it is still listed as an illegal drug under the controlled substance act of 1970. Jonathan Page, a University of British Columbia botanist, said in a statement Wednesday that knowledge about hemp is lacking because of its status as a controlled substance.

A person cannot get high from smoking hemp because the THC levels are too low to produce an altered state of consciousness, according to a 1998 report for the North American Industrial Hemp Council.

The proposed rule was submitted to LCAR on May 10 and a hearing was held June 19. The public comment period for the proposed rule ended July 26.

The LCAR board members voted to postpone their decision on the rule until their next meeting, Sept. 10.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Consumer interest: Congress should not ban states’ GMO food labels

By the Editorial Board
Full Article

Should food companies be required to label products that include GMOs — genetically modified organisms? At the moment, there doesn’t appear to be credible evidence that GMOs can harm human health. But in the absence of long-term studies, many consumers are skeptical and want to know more about what goes into their food.

Grass-roots movements in some states seek to require labeling of genetically modified ingredients. Vermont passed a law that will require GMO labeling beginning next year.

But Republicans in Congress, for all their talk about states’ rights, want to make that impossible. The GOP-controlled House approved a bill in July that would prevent states from requiring GMO labeling. Instead, the measure would create a voluntary national program that would let companies apply for GMO-free labels through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The bill’s sponsors point out that the scientific community agrees that GMOs, which are present in most supermarket foods, are safe for consumption. But supporters of labeling say genetically modified ingredients have been widespread in foods for less than 40 years — not enough time to study long-term effects.

The European Union, Japan, Australia and other advanced countries require GMO labeling. The American College of Physicians argues that the lack of transparency around bioengineered food prevents doctors from diagnosing allergies or other adverse reactions to GMOs.

Opponents of labeling say it would mislead consumers about the safety of bioengineered foods, but no proposed state labeling system would make inaccurate claims about GMO safety. Like ingredient lists, the labels would simply inform consumers how their food was made.

This is a debate about access to information. Congress shouldn’t prohibit states from offering food labels that will enhance consumers’ knowledge.